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“Sure I’m an asshole that loves to take advantage of women who are willing to bang me without me having to offer too much, but at the same time I am also a gentleman that knows how to treat a lady with respect and compassion just like any other true lady should be treated.” — A Typical Bloke
A friend sent me a link about an Orange County mom’s blog post in which she slut-shames the girls her sons go to school with (no doubt endearing herself to their parents in the process) by questioning the outfits they wore to graduation.
6 REASONS WHY I’M GLAD I DON’T HAVE DAUGHTERS, she wrote, and then posted photographs of the girls – subtracting their heads, so the emphasis is on their anonymous body parts – dressed in shorts, short skirts and heels. She provided the kind of saccharine commentary that makes someone, somewhere, want to punch a unicorn: “The little gal in the nude mini…won my award for the most inappropriate outfit of the night…..This girl, bless her heart, showed the entire audience her panties as she ascended the stairs to collect her award…”
And if someone was to point out to this blogger – bless her heart – that her blog post shows a stunning disrespect to these teenage women, I’m sure she would retaliate the way many people would: girls and women who dress inappropriately – read: sexy — don’t deserve respect, in a “they’re sending out all the wrong signals” kind of way.
It’s a strange culture. On the one hand it teaches girls that the only appropriate appearance is one that works the hotness, and a very particular kind of hotness at that. (Don’t hate the players. Hate the game….) On the other hand it teaches girls (and others) that hotness is the domain of the slut, the bimbo, the asking-for-it rape victim. The shorter the hemline, the lower the IQ.
Although in truth, it’s the heterosexual man’s IQ that tends to drop a few points in the presence of a sexy – and ‘distracting’ – woman. Behind all this concern that female high school students learn to dress appropriately – quit with the tank tops, the strapless dresses, the tight pants! – is concern with the comfort level of the poor innocent boys (and, later, the men) who are absolutely victimized by such incapacitating, disorganizing hotness. You, as the female of the species, must protect men from their discomfort with your sexuality by removing said sexuality from the equation.
Not everyone agrees with this. Jessica Valenti argues, while discussing New York’s Stuyvesant High School’s controversial dress code:
“In addition to the violation of female students’ rights, the thinking behind the code sends a dangerous message to young women – that they are responsible for the way in which society objectifies and sexualizes them.
Take this comment from Principal Stanley Teitel: “Many young ladies wear denim skirts which are very tight and are short to begin with, and when they sit down, they only rise up, because there’s nowhere else to go…. The bottom line is, some things are a distraction, and we don’t need to distract students from what is supposed to be going on here, which is learning.”
It’s not the responsibility of female students to mitigate the male gaze. You find female bodies “distracting”? That’s your problem, not women’s. Society teaches that women exist to be looked at, objectified and sexualized—it’s up to others to make sure that they don’t contribute to that injustice.
The students at Stuyvesant are some of the brightest out there—they want to learn and to engage with each other and the world around them. Whether or not they wear tank tops or shorts while they do so is irrelevant.”
Women are not just sexualized but female sexuality itself is villainized. Boys will be boys and men will be men, but girls and women will use their beauty and gender to exploit men. A truly good woman is a pure woman; a truly pure woman is a woman who hasn’t had sex.
This underlying story about women – going all the way back to the one about a girl, a boy, an apple, and the fall of humankind – is what makes slut-shaming possible. What you’re really telling someone when you call them a slut isn’t necessarily that they’re sexually promiscuous (which may or may not be true and is none of your damn business). Girls and women get called — and will call each other — sluts and whores for reasons that often have nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with the urge to hurt, isolate, or punish someone for being the wrong class, the wrong ethnicity, the wrong kind of feminine or just the wrong kind of female.
What you’re really telling them is that they are worthless, they are vile, they are garbage. They don’t deserve to live.
In her snappily entitled ‘Female Purity is Bullshit’, Lindy West references a speech by kidnapping and rape survivor Elizabeth Smart:
Speaking at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, Smart explained why she didn’t try to run from her captors, or even cry for help when they took her out in public:
Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”
Smart [said] she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”
(Which might be why this twelve year old girl hanged herself after cyberbullies harassed her by calling her a slut and a whore.)
As human beings, we’re going to have sexual reactions to each other. We’re hardwired to respond to hotness. We’re going to objectify some of the people some of the time and some of us will be objectified in return. But sensuality, especially female sensuality, is so much richer, more diverse and more complicated than the culture’s one-note presentation of it. How different would this world be if we actually respected the female body?
If we celebrated it?
What would that look like?
photo by Chris Goldberg